Twisting a Friend on Twitter

happy birthday to you print
Chris J Davis on Unsplash

“If you voted for Biden,” she wrote, “you are still my friend. If you voted for Trump, you are still my friend. We are all friends and neighbors, no matter what.”

Can you argue with that?

The writer is a 20-year-old college student; smart, pretty, popular and well-grounded. Someone who actually believes that business about loving one’s neighbor, and doing unto others as one would like done unto oneself. The problem is, she wrote those lines not on some old-fashioned email or piece of paper; she wrote them on Twitter – which commands a worldview of its own. It was posted months ago – eons, in Twittertime, but nothing in Twitterworld goes away.

Thus the post was discovered recently by an erstwhile friend who decided a lesson needed to be taught: This tweet clearly indicates that the writer is a Trump voter, the friend decided. No sensible non-Trump person could befriend a Trump voter, therefore the writer is a bigot and a racist and no longer welcome in any known friend group. Shunning followed. Friends took sides. Incredible amounts of time were wasted.

Yes I know, it all strains credulity. The re-tweeter is obviously unstable or worse, someone with a distorted self-image and too much idle time. Truth does not figure in, anywhere. But Twitterworld does not seek truth, only agitation and activity – which quickly develop once such stupidity begins.

Here is the question: In a world where Twitter rules, is there any hope for Truth? When words taken out of context can quickly become distorted and accepted as ‘fact,’? When scrolling through a couple of cellphone feeds passes for being informed and ‘friendship’ twists and turns with a tweet?

Maybe, if we ever slow down.

For a while it appeared the pandemic might teach us to slow down; but then came zoom and we zoomed ahead at breakneck speed. What might have been slowed down at in-person events was instead accelerated via digital and social media. But here is the gleam of hope:

What if, on spotting an argumentative tweet, post or whatever, one were to bite one’s digital tongue and NOT hit Reply? Or even better, not hit Retweet/Share/Re-post? What if, instead, we could cultivate the old-fashioned practice of speaking person-to-person? Even on an old-fashioned phone of some sort? What if we could revive the old-fashioned practice of saying, “Tell me what you mean, what you’re thinking.” The old-fashioned custom of cordial dialogue.

That would bring us all the way back to “You are still my friend.” A long, slow journey.

But what a happy destination.    

Re-emerging into the cyberforest

Forest (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

If a blog tree falls in the forest of cyberspace, does it make a noise? Probably not. Cyberspace may not even notice – which is a good thing.

A few months ago this blogger fell into the depths of downsizing purgatory: clearing out, packing up, moving house, selling house, the whole catastrophe. The goal was to move myself and mobility-limited husband out of the four-story Edwardian house he bought in 1973 and into a 1600-square-foot condo. This might have been easier if the good husband had ever disposed of ANYthing in those 40 years. Or if he had not celebrated the move by falling and winding up wheelchair bound two days post move, but here we are. Felled, like a couple of Monterey pines.

That’s the end of my tale of woe, until I start a new book on downsizing. (PS, the actual new book: Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade will be out, from YBK Publishers, on May 20!)

It seems that cyberspace got along just fine without a word from this corner. For all I can tell, even Facebook and Twitter got along without me, a downed blogger not even posting or liking or tweeting into the void.

But back in the more or less real world now there is plenty to be blogging or posting or kvetching about: serious stuff like small victories in end-of-life rights or egregious losses in reproductive rights; ridiculous stuff like women having foot surgery so they can wear fashionable shoes; and utterly incomprehensible stuff like the Winklevoss twins and their bitcoins . Since every one of these is of concern to boomers and beyonders, this blogger now looks forward to resuming occasional comments, a sort of one-tree revival in the cyberforest. Tree-huggers will always be welcome.

How smart is your phone, really?

telephone (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Is your phone smarter than you?

Smarter than both of us?

Gadget guru David Pogue‘s phone outsmarted the thief who unwisely lifted it on a train whizzing along the northeast coastline. Pogue, as reported in an interview with PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffery Brown, arrived in New York minus his phone, and immediately set to work tracking it down. With a little help from an app or two, he located it somewhere in Maryland. Then, with a little more help from Google maps and a million+ Twitter followers, he located the precise house where the hapless thief and his booty were holed up. A few astute policemen eventually heard the loud beeps that Pogue was instructing his phone to emit, scooped up their prey from deep in the grass of the back yard and started it on a journey home. The thief got off lightly — Pogue and cops all being more interested in bringing the whole interstate adventure to a close than in filing a lot of time-&-labor-intensive papers. But for a while he’ll probably stick to wallets.

My phone is not quite that smart. But I do, after intense pressure from friends and relations about the age of Pogue — whose grandmother is about my age I would guess — now have a smartphone. It may not be smart enough (or app-loaded enough) to help me find it if someone snatches it, but it is smart enough to do a LOT of things I am not smart enough to ask. Yet.

I bring all this up because I increasingly believe all that stuff about Boomers and geezers being incapable of adjusting to the age of technology is hogwash. Before becoming a smartphone owner, OK, maybe I believed. Now? Nahh. Now that I have successfully installed our new computer modem, reconfigured the router (take that, $89/hr Geek Squad) to get us back online a couple of weeks ago, fiddled around with the background color of this emerging blogsite and made a few moves with my smartphone……. all things are possible.

And anyway. David Pogue wasn’t smart enough to avoid getting his iPhone snatched. I don’t think he even has a BA in Art or an MFA in Short Fiction.

Churchill & the power of words

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the Unite...
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. Deutsch: Winston Churchill, 1940 bis 1945 sowie 1951 bis 1955 Premier des Vereinigten Königreichs und Literaturnobelpreisträger des Jahres 1953. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Obama reportedly has 15 million+ Twitter followers. Romney folks got a bunch of their own with the fake Bill Clinton tweets caper. But anything tweets and sound bites can do, oratory could do better. Oh, for a Winston Churchill today.

Winston Churchill would absolutely never have tweeted.

What he did do with the English language is illuminated in a fascinating exhibition that opened on my birthday – thanks, Churchill Centre – at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. Get there if you can.

Churchill: The Power of Words, includes some sixty-five documents, artifacts, and recordings, ranging from edited typescripts of his speeches to his Nobel Medal and Citation to endearingly personal notes exchanged with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among the most moving features of the exhibition is a small room where broadcasts that   Churchill made between 1938 and 1941 are heard while a screen shows video clips and his own annotated notes.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from among the treasure trove of documents, but the collection detailing his unhappy days at St. George School, to which he was sent off when not quite 8 years old, is a start. Notes the hated headmaster: “Winston is troublesome, his conduct exceedingly bad; he cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere.” But he got good grades in history.

The Roosevelt/Churchill friendship shines through in exchanged notes, such as when FDR delightedly heard Churchill had visited the U.S. as a baby. Churchill wrote back that no, he’d been here first when he was 28, “too big for my baby carriage.” To which FDR cabled back, “Some baby.”

Also included in the exhibition is the doctor’s prescription for “medicinal alcohol” when Churchill was hospitalized after being struck by a car in New York during Prohibition; FDR’s telegram to Churchill on D-Day; and the handwritten note from King George VI about FDR’s death: “My dear Winston; I cannot tell you how sad I am…”

In addition to the oratory that shaped history, the words in The Power of Words are mischievous, poignant, revealing and heart-wrenching.

They just wouldn’t be the same in a tweet.

Gutter talk in cyberspace: how free should speech really be?

Occasionally this space has received comments one would deem offensive (especially if one could remember the days when people apologized for saying damn in polite company) but they are all there, at the bottom of assorted posts. T/S has a “Call out” mechanism for making comments more public. I have occasionally called out comments which strongly oppose a post, but not included the gutter language. The truly offensive just lie there, hopefully unnoticed.

There has to be a limit. Lawyer/journalist Peter Scheer argues for the preservation of some degree of civil discourse in an op ed piece that appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Some people have no choice but to live in a cesspool. (Consider the young protagonist in “Slumdog Millionaire,” leaping into a pool of human waste in order to escape a locked latrine.) But news organizations are not among them.

The cesspool that many newspapers occupy is the comments sections of their Web sites. This is the space, typically following a newspaper’s own stories and editorials, where readers have their say. If postings to that space are completely unfiltered, it is sure to be stuffed with the rants and invective of people who have too much time on their hands. Reading online comments sections, one can easily get the impression that bigots, psychopaths and conspiracy theorists make up a majority of newspapers’ online readers. (Note to publishers: This is hardly a desirable demographic to show to advertisers.) In reality, such commenters are relatively few in number, although they are, regrettably, loud and prolific.

Facebook, Twitter, etc are, as far as I can tell, wayy outside the parameters of this act. Except for the time a True/Slant post of mine was blocked from Facebook by some anonymous person who objected to the mention of dogs and research in the same paragraph, presumably believing I was supporting cruel and unusual treatment of animals — you had to read the article, which the objecter did not — censorship seems rare on those sites. Not so obscenity and vulgarity and the randomly bizarre.

I am Facebook friends with my grandchildren — the only line of intergenerational communication open to those of us who draw the line at texting. But I try not to look at their pages. My college freshman granddaughter, in fact, recently asked for my Twitter name so she could follow me, but suggested I wouldn’t want to follow her. The brave new world is populated with abbreviated obscenities and codes which might totally replace English; oh, me. But back to the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 of the act protects newspapers that operate their reader comments sections as a cesspool, permitting readers to post whatever they wish, no matter how libelous or harmful. Injured parties can sue the authors of those online comments, but not the newspaper. The newspaper is shielded, even if it has been given notice that statements in its comments section are false and it refuses to remove them.

But newspapers are equally protected if they act responsibly, screening comments or editing them. The act was intended to give news organizations a perverse incentive to refrain from editing user-generated comments. As long as editors don’t alter the meaning of a comment completely (say, by changing the comment to say the opposite of what was posted), the newspaper will be protected.

Reader comment sections have huge potential. The opportunity to debate both other readers and the journalists responsible for the paper’s news stories and editorials can reflect democratic self-government at its best. However, this ideal can be realized only if editors take seriously their responsibility to edit.

Misconception No. 2 is the belief that to regulate readers’ comments, enforcing rules of civil discourse on a newspaper Web site, is to engage in a form of censorship – and that censorship by a news organization, if not strictly illegal, is at least hypocritical. But this concern confuses censorship with editing. Although the online venue may remove the need to edit comments for length, it does not diminish the obligation to edit for substance.

Ah, substance. And propriety. And civility. And good old-fashioned print newspapers some of us still read over breakfast coffee. My age may be showing here.

Online comments need editing.